Almost 900 people gathered Tuesday at Crazy Horse Memorial near Custer for a ceremony at the welcome center to honor project CEO Ruth Ziolkowski.
Ziolkowski, 87, died last week of cancer. She was remembered by a series of speakers -- including U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, a Catholic priest and a direct descendent of the Lakota Chief Red Cloud -- as a kind-hearted lady with a steely commitment to her artist husband Korczak's mountain sculpture honoring legendary Lakota leader Crazy Horse.
No one knew that commitment better than Korczak, who often proclaimed it to friends from up on the mountain. They included Msgn. William O'Connell of Rapid City, who often rode up the mountain with the sculpture to check progress and talk about the future.
"I was privileged to know Korczak very well. And when I would come to the mountain invariably we'd get in the Jeep and we'd go up to the top of the mountain," O'Connell said during his remarks. "And he'd look at me, pointed his finger down the mountain, and he'd say in that gravely voice of his, 'well, Father Bill, if this is going to succeed, you know who's going to make it happen -- that little woman down there. She's going to make the dream possible."
She did that, both before and after her husband's death in 1982, continuing and expanding work on the sculpture. But she also expanded outreach to Native American people, through Native American museum and cultural center and small institution of learning.
She also was also actively involved in charitable work, across reservations and in Black Hills communities. O'Connell said the lived her life representing the four key virtues of Lakota people: courage, honor, generosity and wisdom.
"She had wisdom, courage, generosity and above all the virtue of honor, honoring those we remember with the monument -- Native American people from around our country, but really indigenous people from North and South and Central America," O'Connell said. "So we're very grateful for the way she was. She was one who lived the fullness of those virtues."
Ruth Ziolkowski also was a powerful force in the Black Hills travel industry.
"She has been the first lady of tourism in South Dakota for decades," says Johnny Brockelsby, public relations director for the Reptile Gardens of Rapid City. "And I'll tell you, all the promotion she has done, all that publicity that Crazy Horse has received over the years helps each and every one of us in the visitor industry. So we will miss her greatly."
Brockelsby said he didn't know anyone more gracious than Ruth.
"She just had a gift. God gave her a gift, and that gift was great. And she used it to make the world a better place," he said.
That first lady of tourism -- and much more -- went out Tuesday with praise, prayer, song and, finally, a boom -- with a blast on the mountain emphasizing the family's commitment to carrying on the dream.
The memorial service Tuesday at the Crazy Horse welcome center ended a two-day public celebration of Ruth Ziolkowski's life and works. It is to be followed by a private family burial ceremony. She will be buried at the base of the mountain, near other loved ones and her husband's tomb.